I’ve realized that in all of the chaos surrounding the start of the school year, I never got around to blogging about Inbox Zero!
Like many schools and institutions around the world, email has become an integral tool at UNIS. If the email server ever goes down for even 10 minutes (which, thanks to our tech department, very rarely happens!) there is a hint of panic amongst the staff.
Unfortunately, even as our reliance on email as a mode of communication has increased to the point of being absolutely essential, our ability to handle the vast quantities of email that we receive on a daily basis has barely evolved if at all. In fact, one of the most common complaints/concerns that I hear amongst our teachers is that there are too many emails sent.
When I first heard about Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero presentation that he gave at the Google Campus in 2006, I was instantly intrigued. It was billed as the best hour that one could spend and I agree! I have probably saved 10 times that or more since I instituted this system 1.5 years ago.
While I highly encourage everybody to check out Mann’s original presentation, the basics are below. I presented this to some interested staff to start the year and it was pretty well received!
If I needed one sentence to summarize Mann’s idea, it would be this: Stop living in your Inbox! Instead of being a slave to email and living in your inbox, convert your relevant messages into predefined actions (mine are delete, do right now, to do later , and reference, in that order) and keep your inbox empty. Don’t use your inbox as a filing cabinet (it should be for new messages that haven’t been processed yet) and don’t spend a lot of time filing messages into subfolders (almost everything goes into that generic reference folder; if I need to find it I will search for it later).
One of the themes for my presentation on the subject (which, I admit, unabashedly steals large portions from Mann, including a few slides which I didn’t have time to prepare myself!) is to think about the analog equivalents of digital tools. This is why you’ll see quite a few references to Mad Men.
Nobody in their right minds (certainly not Don Draper!) would keep all of their correspondence stacked up in their “In Tray” on their desk. Why do we feel we can do that with email? If a phone message were to cross your desk, most people would act on it immediately, either by calling the person back, making a note in their calendar or throwing it in the trash. Why do we treat email any different?
Ultimately, Inbox Zero is about converting messages into actions and then disposing of those messages. It has helped give me a sense of purpose on busy days when I would have normally been overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of messages in my inbox. Now I know exactly where I need to go in order to find things I need to get done!
How do you handle email at school? What systems work for you?